Sunday, February 20, 2011

Jordan, February 19th 2011

It is beginning to appear that my New Year's Resolution to never again through away any food is turning into a curse: Eric and I are still eating leftovers from my 40th birthday party in January and now I also have a considerable amount of leftovers from last night's dinner.  Thankfully Jan and Jeff were happy to take some home with them and Joanne, who couldn't come since she returned late from her trip in Nice, just told me that she'll be really glad to have some of the food.  Maybe I'll take the leftover cake to work on Monday....

I should have paid more attention, I guess, to the website I found that was suggesting what an appropriate portion per person of Mezze was. Really, when one dishes out 8 different starters one should assume that unless the dinner is a whole day affair, only small portions will be eaten by the diners.  I always have this fear that there won't be enough to eat (got that from my mother who even now that my sisters and I have moved out, still cooks for 6 people even when only she and my father are at the table).  But no, I decided that half a cup of couscous wasn't going to be enough (it would have been), so now I have to have tabouli for lunch for the entire week (and possibly one or two dinners too). 

I had to do quite a bit of research to find recipes as I found quite a few sites that gave names of foods and the order they should be eaten and how (we didn't really follow the same etiquette as the Jordanians would have wanted but I figure I can do that when I have enough money to take my alphabetical dinners on tour and cook on site).  In fact, many of the sites were a copy and paste of each other: what this meant was that I had an idea of what dishes I was going to make but no recipes. 

A serious dinner affair in Jordan begins with a series of Mezze (small appetizers) and I tried to prepare as many as I could find recipes for plus hummus and dolma (stuffed grape leaves) that I bought already made.  The other 6 I made from scratch. 

Just as I finished preparing the table and lighting a few candles just before my friends arrived, I realized that I didn't have any bread that could have been used as a vehicle to eat the hummus and babaganoush so I rummaged through my fridge and found some flat bread (flatout, 3 weight watchers points per serving) which is similar in consistency to pita so I decided to cut it up and toast it.  Except that my toaster oven decided to play up and so just as Laurel and Pat came in the house, the kitchen was filling up with smoke!  Thankfully, we managed to ventilate enough and avoid the fire alarm from going off but it meant that there was a lovely smoky flavor to the house and it's not exactly what you want to smell when you go to dinner at a friend's home...  My frantic "hi, nice to see you, thanks for coming, I burned the toast not the whole dinner" welcomes were pretty much repeated for the next 5 minutes as Jan then Jeff then Dan and Peter arrived. 

Since there were too many of us to sit in our living room, I asked that we went straight to the dining table and while Eric played host (poor guy is suffering from severe jetlag from his recent trip to Singapore so I really appreciated the efforts he made not to fall flat faced on the dining table), I moved to the kitchen to "tart up" my Mezze.  This time, even Kako would have been pleased with my efforts at decorating the dishes.  I'm not remotely close to hers or Kyiomi's style (I am sure I am offending someone right this moment who I should be mentioning but I am not, so sorry but you're not coming up to my mind - I'll be sure to thank you in my Oscar acceptance speech) but I am getting better.

The Mezze consisted, as I mentioned already, of 8 small dishes:
  1. Hummus (store bought - very nice)
  2. Dolma (stuffed grape leaves - from a can purchased by Eric at a Persian store)
  3. Babaganoush - eggplant spread.  I made this one.  The recipe called for 3 small eggplants that needed to be charred over the fire first and then cooked in the oven until they collapsed on themselves.  I made this on Friday night and it took quite a long time.  It was very nice though.  Nice and fluffy as Peter commented and most everyone (except Pat) really liked it. 
  4. Ful Medames: this is really a fava beans stew. If you like fava beans and cumin, you'll love this.  I really liked it and I always love the way that my kitchen smells after I dry fry cumin seeds in a pan.  I wouldn't recommend you do this just before an open house if you're trying to sell your home but it's a nice aromatic scent that will linger on for a couple of hours (I wonder if it could eliminate the smell of burned toast? Worth a try).  This was also a popular dish amongst my friends (except for Pat, who liked it better than babaganoush but not much)
  5. Fatayer: these are baked cheese balls.  They are very very simple to make and are delicious.  This is actually the kind of snack that it's worth making for parties and, because they are baked, they don't get chewy (like fried pastries do).  The recipe called for Kiri cheese as stuffing but I couldn't find it and I read that cream cheese is a good substitute so I bought Philadelphia.  I probably could have used "the laughing cow" cheese triangles as well.  This was one of those recipes that wasn't really very clear as it called for "zataar" as an ingredient (it is a spice mix made with sumac, thyme, oregano, sesame seeds and marjoram) but didn't really mention it in the preparation instructions.  So I put a pinch on top of the cheese in each of the balls.  Everyone liked the fatayer.  Including Pat (who commented: "Cheese+Bread: Good" - am beginning to wonder if he's watched one too many of those Geico's commercials with the cavemen...perhaps just overwhelmed by the thought that he'll soon be a daddy :)
  6. Tabuli: every Middle Eastern meal I had, had some tabuli somewhere.  On a side, as a main, in a sandwich, so I decided that I should also serve it in my dinner but... I should have followed the recipe and use 1/2 a cup of couscous (actually the recipe called for bulghar but I chose couscous instead). Any good tabuli should have a ton of parsley in it: this one also had mint and cucumbers and these gave it a particularly fresh taste.  Everyone loved it!  I have only realized it though as I am going through the comments that they made in their scoring cards... had I known it last night, everyone would now be eating tabuli for brunch (instead, it's going to be my lunch for the week as I already mentioned...)
  7. Magdoos: these are pickled eggplants.  I had actually made these for the goody bag but since I had a couple leftovers I decided to slice them up and serve them with the mezze.  Laurel thought they went particularly well with the tabuli.  Dan must have bitten right into a piece of chili pepper as he found them way spicy!  I didn't think they were and if you like eggplants and pickles, you should try making these as they are very simple to prepare and last a long time.
  8. Sambusak: these are filled fried pastry.  The pastry is very similar to the one I used for the fatayer except that it had a little sugar and it needed to raise for 2 hours.  I left it to rise for 4 and it was a little too elastic to work with.  The filling was chickpeas paste with a variety of spices and onions.  Not a lot of onions in Jordanian cooking I must say.  I am surprised as most Mediterranean cuisine use a lot of onion.  I think I should have made these pastries as the last dish I prepared as they are fried and should be eaten as soon as they are ready.  I thought they were a bit soggy because I made them in the early afternoon and so they weren't quite as crunchy as they were when they were hot and fresh out of the pan.  My friends liked them but not as much as the tabuli or the fatayer.

I kept on telling everyone, to pace themselves as this was "only" the starter, but it's difficult to stop eating when there is so much food on the table.  But despite this, people were still surprised when I showed up from the kitchen carrying the main course.  Mansaf, lamb in yogurt sauce, is the national dish of Jordan and it's served with Arabic flat bread and rice (I used basmati).  I read that in Jordan, the preparation of Mansaf is an all-day affair and not to be outdone, I pretty much cooked the lamb in the sauce from noon to the time I served it (around 8.30pm).  As a result, the lamb was very tender.  The recipe left a little bit to the imagination (for example, it says to use spices but doesn't say when or it says to cook 3 cups of rice in 1 cup of butter... really?  OK, hello?  How about adding some water?).  I used cumin, tons of turmeric (got a very yellow sink today) thyme and paprika to spice it up a little.  To serve it, you lay the rice at the bottom of a platter, cover it with almonds and pine nuts cooked in butter (clogging of arteries today...) then put the meat on top and then sprinkle it with other almonds and pine nuts.  To eat, you first place some flat bread on your plate, cover it with yogurt sauce and then add the rice and meat on top.  It was really delicious. 

Finally - although by now everyone was severely full and pleasantly drunk, except for Jan and Laurel who is off the booze for the next 9 months - it was time for dessert: kunafa is made with kataifi and stuffed with cheese.  Kataifi, I've learned, is the name of that vermicelli like pastry that is often found stuffed with nuts in Middle Eastern food stores.  Eric found it frozen in the Persian market.  It simply is filo dough that has been shredded to thin noodles.  It's not easy to work with but not as difficult as I had imagined either.  The stuffing was a combination of ricotta and mozzarella (ok, these are Italian cheeses... what gives?) and then it was covered with nuts and raisins on the top as decorations.  It was nice but not the best part of the meal.  I liked it though, particularly the scent and flavor of rose water.  Just a little bit really goes a long way...   

The goody bags contained pickled eggplants (maghdoos), dates and baklava.

Here is the menu with the scores:

Ful Medames 7.9
Fatayer 8.6
Sambusek 7.2
Babaganoush 8.2
Tabouli 8.6
Mansaf 8.6
Kunafa 7.3
Overall Dinner 8.3

Whilst my dinners are most certainly about eating different foods (things you wouldn't think of perhaps having in your own home for instance),  they also are about getting together with friends.  And last night was no exception: it was lovely to see Dan and Peter, Jeff (who absolutely loved everything, he said it was the best of my dinners he'd been to date), Jan, Laurel and Pat and find out about what goes on in their lives.  I was exhausted at the end of the night but not as much as Eric who passed out on the bed with the radio and the light on, half dressed and with dental floss wrapped around his finger... thankfully, I noticed this and unwrapped it just as the finger was turning a suspicious shade of black. 

Next is K.  It should be Kiribati but who knows if I'll be able to find any recipes from this tiny country in the South Pacific?

Stay tuned...


Peter Wallace said...

It really was fabulous, Rossana! We had such fun time and the food was delicious and healthy too, mostly! Thanks so much. Wish I'd taken some tabouli now!

Peter Wallace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan le said...

The lamb stew, mansaf, was out of this world! I actually was craving for it today and I wish we had taken a doggie bag.

May be be we can make it with chicken or something with less than four legs at home. Thanks for posting the recipes.

Anonymous said...

Rossana, it was truly delicious. (Ignore Pat. We are slowly expanding his Geico-man palate!) I, too, wish I had taken a doggie bag of tabbouli; it was outstanding. And the lamb was sensational. I love that the recipe said to add spices, but not what kinds or how much. You did a great job--it turned out supremely tasty. And the best part of all was catching up with lovely friends. Grazie mille!
Laurel (+Pat and a possible Eric/a)

lorenz said...

Minchia Ross, solo a guardare le foto mi รจ venuta l'acquolina in bocca! A leggere il blog ancora peggio! Amo, anzi adoro la cucina del medio oriente e con quello che hai fatto, nel linguaggio del flipper (pinball) hai colpito lo special rosso! Spero che, se mai tu ed Eric vi sposterete nelle vicinanze, manterrai questa favolosa tradizione! a presto

Anonymous said...

Beautiful presentation. Yum!

Anonymous said...

Yes, the presentation looks lovely! I always enjoy your decoration and presentation.


Anonymous said...

I bought some meat bread called sambusek. Iam on weight watchers plus can anyone tell me how many points some of the bread is, I've never had it before, thank you